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The woman who looked at a forest and saw a community


Simard assumed her data would speak for itself, and it wasn’t until it became clear that her results wouldn’t change policy that she became a staunch advocate. Forests – and our future – were too important for her to be silent.

Sensing that she was at an impasse working for the Forest Service, Simard made the transition to academia, where she has since had the freedom to continue her investigations, allowing her research questions to evolve further and recruit graduate students to help them respond. His work now influences forest policy at the provincial level and guides scientific discourse around the world.

“The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben promoted many of the same concepts that Simard does here. However, Wohlleben has been the subject of much criticism from the scientific community for drawing conclusions beyond what the data showed. His facts were mixed with guesswork. Simard does not make the same mistake. For example, she describes how her family and community come together in times of joy and tragedy, and suggests that forest communities can do the same by sharing resources in times of stress. But its arguments are supported by rigorous research spanning decades.

Simard can confidently write that “trees were connected, cooperating” by pointing to graphs of two-way carbon flow between paper birch and Douglas fir, then explaining the importance of these elemental transfers. Birch can provide the fir with enough carbon to produce seeds and reproduce, and the amount transferred depends on access to light. In other words, a birch tree distributes resources according to need, and not as a single fire jet. The more shade a birch casts on a fir tree, the more carbon is transferred to it to help it survive. Later, once the fir tree passes the birch and does shade, the energy flow is reversed.

Simard explains in plain language what the implications of these findings are, an important next step that is often missed in the work of other scientists trying to share their ideas with a wider audience. Investing in dynamic systems will result in healthier forests and sustainable forestry, she says. “It means expanding our modern methods, our epistemology and our scientific methodologies, so that they complement, build upon and align with indigenous roots. The protection of mother trees is of paramount importance to her.

“Seniors who have survived climate change in the past must be guarded as they can spread their seeds in disturbed areas and pass on their genes, energy and resilience into the future,” she writes. “When mother trees – the majestic centers at the center of forest communication, protection and sensitivity – die, they pass their wisdom on to loved ones, generation after generation, sharing knowledge of what helps and what helps. who harms, who is friend or foe, and how to adapt and survive in an ever-changing landscape. This is what all parents do.

For Simard, revitalizing synergies in the forest while meeting human needs is more than a job. It is a call as great as the subjects of her book: to be a mother tree herself.



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